Natpe Europe: Eastern Europe Still Hungry for U.S. Drama, Studios Say

"Orange is the New Black" was among the series series for buyers at Natpe Europe.
"Orange is the New Black" was among the series series for buyers at Natpe Europe.
 Netflix

After several years of hurt following the economic crisis, the television markets of Central and Eastern Europe are beginning to come back.

That was the consistent message from buyers and sellers at this year's Natpe Europe, which wraps on Thursday. The international television market, held this year in Prague after 23 years stationed in Budapest, didn't see an explosion of multi-million-dollar package deals but there was a steady flow of bread-and-butter business.

“After the economic collapse of 2009 to 2012-2013, things have stabilized again and a number of territories are quite well on the way to recovery,” said David Smyth, vice president of sales at 20th Century Fox Television, which screened their new drama slate, including FX series Tyrant, Fox procedural Backstrom and medical drama Rush (broadcast on USA Networks) for local buyers.

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While the U.S. studios used to be able to sell their entire slate, en bloc, to the big terrestrial broadcasters in the region, the rise in local programming, as well as successful imports—including high-end dramas from Turkey—has meant U.S. shows have been pushed off primetime on many big networks in Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic. But this has been compensated, to some degree, with rise in digital and pay TV channels, many of them hungry for American-made series.

“The main channels (in the region) just aren't acquiring series, it's all local production or (reality) formats,” said Roberta Ibba-Hartog, head of TV at Lionsgate for the U.K. and Eastern Europe. “But what we are seeing is real growth in the second-tier channels, along with cable, pay TV and SVOD outlets.”

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Lionsgate this week appointed two new sales directors to help feed and fuel that growth. Mark James, who will report to Ibba-Hartog, was named director of sales for Central and Eastern Europe while former ITV Global Entertainment exec Fabio Etienne-Tinchant takes up the director of sales job for Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Africa and the Mid-East.

Ibba-Hartog said the hires were needed because of the sheer volume of small screen product Lionsgate is bringing to market. The indie studio screened new dramas, including period mini-series Houdini, which  stars Oscar-winner Adrien Brody; WGN America series Manhattan, about the race to build the atomic bomb; and Netflix hit Orange is the New Black.

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Judging by the crowded market floor and general upbeat mood of attendees, Napte Europe's move to Prague seems to be a success. Natpe CEO Rod Perth said nearly a third of the around 150 exhibiting companies this year are first-time buyers, a fact that he said speaks well of the market's future .

In addition to the market screenings, Natpe Europe for the first time this year held a co-production summit, sponsored by German production company Tandem Communications (Crossing Lines), Prague-based Barrandov Studios, and Stillking Films and Universal Productions Partners, to look at the boom in high-end European-made drama. Natpe also paid tribute to Polish television, with a special salute to the region's industry, which included a Q&A with Oscar- and Emmy-nominated Polish director Agnieszka Holland.

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